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Public life and possibilities for democracy in Brazil

Corruption in political life, absence of trust in politics and politicians, the degree of proximity and distance between public issues and the private life of ordinary people, violence, criminality and individualism in the streets are just a few of the realities traditionally associated with the public sphere in Brazil.

In her new book Social Representations and Public Life: The Symbolic Construction of Public Spaces in Brazil (published August 2000 by Editoria Vozes), Brazilian academic Dr Sandra Jovchelovitch has analysed the Brazilian press, talked with street children, taxi drivers, policemen, professionals, students and manual workers, and conducted narrative interviews with Brazilian parliamentarians about the impeachment of the former president, to discover how public life in Brazil is both perceived and represented.

Dr Sandra Jovchelovitch, a lecturer in social psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, took the work of Jurgen Habermas on public life as a starting point.

Based on a comprehensive empirical study - the first of its kind in Brazil - the book discusses how the public sphere is conceived in the Brazilian social imagination.

Dr Jovchelovitch said: "The results produced a strikingly similar representational field, marked by notions of fear, threat and individualism in the streets and corruption, self-interest and individualism in politics. These notions are brought together and explained by a central representation: the Brazilian character. It is this character, which emerged in the study as dubious, ambivalent, hybrid and of a 'contaminated' nature, which justified the situation in the streets and political life.

"This suggests that the mixed nature of the Brazilian people lies at the very heart of social representations of public life. Threat and fear in the streets and corruption in political life are anchored in old metaphors of corrupt blood and a contaminated, ill, social body.

"I believe that it is essential to understand these cultural representations about public life in order to understand how citizenship is thought, practised and distributed in Brazil and to understand the possibilities of Brazilian democracy."



  • Sandra Jovchelovitch is a lecturer in Social Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Before coming to England, she worked extensively as a social psychologist in Porto Alegre, south of Brazil, where she also taught psychology at PUC-RS. She publishes widely in the field of social representations. Her current research interests are focused on the construction of everyday representations and how these relate to the shaping of public spheres.
  • Sandra Jovchelovitch will be in Brazil from 4 to 25 of August. For interviews about the book, contact her on +44 (0)20 7955 6863 or email s.jovchelovitch@lse.ac.uk. During August in Brazil she can be contacted on +55 51 233-3140.

The London School of Economics and Political Science is the world's leading social science institution. Around 50 Brazilian students study undergraduate and postgraduate courses at LSE, which is headed by sociologist and Third Way author Professor Anthony Giddens.  For more information, see www.lse.ac.uk| or contact LSE Press Office on +44 (0)20 7955 7060 or email pressoffice@lse.ac.uk|

20 June 2000